Let's Take A Closer Look

Explaining complicated subject matter simply since 1986

Milk was touted for hundreds of years as good for kids’ teeth and bones, especially since Louie figured out how pasteurize milk. Back then there were no milk bottles. Vendors sold it by the dipperful. As the story goes, Dr. Henry Thatcher had an epiphany one day in 1884 when he saw a vendor dipping milk from an open bucket into which a very dirty doll had fallen. Thatcher won a patent for glass milk bottles modeled after the sanitary glass bottles and beakers and tubes used in laboratories and hospitals. How could a cow know anything about Louie or Henry or the movement in America that set out to clean up the meatpacking industry and enact federal laws regulating how all foods are to be handled and processed? 

Nowadays the refrigerated dairy cases in your grocery sell cow, goat, sheep and buffalo milk alongside milk made from almonds, bananas, cashews, coconuts, flax, hemp, macadamia nuts, oats, rice and soy in everything from pints to gallons. Already you can see that I know more about milk than a cow does and so do you.

To be fair, some cows know some things I don’t

One is how an udder feels when it’s stretched painfully tight. That’s when you hear all that mooing.

Hand-milked cows all knew who was tugging at their teats as surely as the telegraph operators knew whose hand was tapping out Morse code down the line.

Then came the commercial dairies that hooked the gals up to more-efficient plumbing contraptions that look like they were made by Doc Brown and most of that touchy-feely stuff went away. 

Cows don’t know they are being milked by robots

These days, the only cows that know how it feels to be milked by human hands live in third world nations, non-mechanized outposts like Amish Country or on tax-deductible farms owned by time-share hobby farmers playing Old MacDonald and Holly Hobby on the weekend.

Cows have surely noticed other barnyard infants feeding on mother’s milk

Cats, dogs, horses, sheep, pigs and goats all do it right out there in plain sight. But cows don’t know that humans are the only mammal that drinks milk produced by other species. 

Cows don’t know that milk is high in Vitamin D, known by humans to build strong bones and teeth. They also don’t know about the study of 100,000 adults that found those who drank the most milk over a 20-year period broke the most bones, another breaking ball at conventional wisdom’s outside corner.

Cows don’t know that Wind-eze gel caps cost about 30 cents each

This is connected to their being ignorant about lactose intolerance, a condition that keeps some people from fully digesting the sugar in milk. The Mayo Clinic says there are three types of lactose intolerance, but concludes that the condition is usually harmless.

Cows don’t know that people in Finland, Denmark and Sweden drink more milk than anyone.

Cows don’t even know the names of the most famous spokescows in the business

Elsie, the Borden’s cow, married Elmer, who fixed broken things around the house. He became the face of Elmer’s Glue, another Borden product. They settled down, had Beulah and Beauregard, and lived happily ever after.

Got Milk?

Cows don’t know the Got Milk? campaign gave a small boost to sales when celebrities were photographed wearing milk mustaches. In spite of being a clever campaign that produced 350 ads and won lots of awards, per capita milk consumption in the USA continues its 70-year long downward skid. A cow would not know Got Milk? was a cash cow for more than 20 years for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

Cows don’t know anything about evaporated, condensed or powdered milk

Evaporated milk has had all the water removed. When manufacturers add sugar to it, they call it condensed milk. Both these waterless milks come in tin cans and gather dust on the shelf for years without going bad. When the factories go one step further and remove not just the water but all of the remaining milk liquids, too, they call it powdered milk. It can last for months under proper conditions, but its real value was in how much less it weighs, making it easier to transport long distances, a big issue when you are feeding millions of men fighting in World Wars oceans away.

Cows don’t know anything about milk chocolate

Milk chocolate uses milk as a cheap thinner that is said to make the chocolate taste milder and creamier. Cows don’t know that milk chocolate is half sugar, either.

Cows don’t know anything about the statue of the World Champion Milk Cow in Carnation, Washington

They can’t read, so none of them know the plaque says cows are The Foster Mothers of the Human Race. Known to her personal milker as “Possum Sweetheart,” the champ’s real name was Segis Pietertje Prospect. In 1920, when the average milk cow produced 4,000 pounds of milk a year, Possum pumped out 37,361 pounds. That works out to producing her entire body weight in milk every three weeks.

One hell of an udder, too

In Humbird, Wisconsin, owners Pam and Scott say Aftershock 3918 “has a massive front end with a wide rump.” Aftershock is a Holstein and the current record holder, producing 78,170 pounds of milk in one year, more than twice that of ol’ Possum, may she rest in peace. The record for milk produced over a lifetime is 478,163 pounds, held by another Holstein, this one named Smurf. And a cow couldn’t know any of that.


If you recognize this iron gizmo as a device used to wean calves from the teat, you either grew up on a farm or you collect old farm implements. The balls with the gap between them are pushed up the calf’s nasal passages and keep the balls inside the calf’s nose while the spikes dangle outside. When the calf tries to suckle, the sharp prongs jab painfully into the cow’s udder and she kicks the calf in the head. Once they’ve been kicked enough times, calves give up. In today’s gentler world, suckling discouragers look like this:

Double bonus

If you’ve never heard Ella Fitzgerald sing Old MacDonald Had a Farm on the Ed Sullivan Show, click here for a real treat – and stick with her to the finish.

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